Friday, 17 January 2014

Women Destroy Science Fiction

I stumbled upon this announcement for a special edition of LIGHTSPEED featuring women who write Sci-Fi.  Or rather, destroy it.  Intriguing!

I have always loved Sci-Fi.  I can’t even remember the first time I watched Star Wars, because I was so young.  I grew up on Star Trek: the Next Generation, Buck Rogers re-runs, Thundercats, Ulysses 31… the list goes on.  At the same time I was playing video games, which quite often put me in the pilot seat of a Sci-Fi adventure.  I wanted my own lightsaber and X-Wing.  (I have them after a fashion now, so yay me!)

I’d like to say that when I wrote The Eye of theBeholder, I just wrote it and didn’t have any doubts about how it would be received based on my gender, but sadly that just isn’t true.  I can’t remember where I heard it, but I was vaguely aware of the idea that a Science Fiction book with a woman’s name on the cover would be more easily dismissed than if it had a man’s name on.

For a very short while I pondered about publishing under a male pen name.

There is a famous author from my home town you may have heard, of called George Eliot.  There is a statue of her in the town centre.  Yep, you read that right; her.  George’s real name was Mary Anne Evans.  She didn’t publish her work under that name for fear that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. 
Her most famous book is probably Middlemarch; published in 1872, and now recognised as “one of the greatest novels of the English language.”

1872.

That is over one hundred and forty years ago.

One hundred and forty years, and I had the same fear.  Wow.

I decided to go with my real feminine name (No one is going to mistake a “Sarah” for a guy like you might with a “Sam” or an “Ash”) for several reasons, but the primary one was that I wanted people to know a woman could write Sci-Fi.  It wouldn’t be fair for people to read the stories, enjoy them, and then credit them to a guy and perpetuate the myth that woman don’t write good Sci-Fi.  Thus far, I’m not aware of anyone passing up my book because of the name on the cover, but then I wouldn’t know if they did!

Likewise, I want girls to be able to read Sci-Fi, to see that it is an okay and normal thing for a girl to do.  I’ve come up against that myth far more:  People telling others my book is “for boys” because of the Science Fiction themes in it.  There are male characters in my stories, but there are also female characters, and there is even one story that features a spaceship as the main “character”!
I hope that if a girl sees a female name on the cover of the book, they will realise that women are equally allowed to enjoy the genre; it’s not an entirely male dominated thing.

How did the George Eliot story end?  Well, she admitted to being the novelist that the pubic had become so interested in; and she didn’t lose her fanbase because of it.  Would she have had the same initial success if they had known she was a woman from the start, or would they have passed her books over in search of a “proper” story merely because of the name?  No one can say.

Well, I’ve got a short story on the go to submit to this edition of LIGHTSPEED.  I don’t know if I’ll be lucky enough to get published or not.  I hope there will be plenty of women submitting their stories, even if that means a lot of competition! ;) At the end of it all, it’s about having fun and enjoying the genre we love.  It’s okay for people not to like the stories, as long as they do so on the basis of the writing, not on the irrelevant fact that the person writing it is female.

So for men and women around the globe who love good Sci-Fi, I’d ask you to check out this Kickstarter and offer your support, either monetarily or with a Share, so we women can destroy what Sci-Fi is seen to be, and join in on what Sci-Fi is all about; exploration, discovery and adventure!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Seeping Massacre - Follow Up

I thought it would be interesting to write a follow up and share the feedback I got from that story.  So often you enter a competition and never know what the people judging your work thought of it.  I also thought I'd write a little about the story, and how the intent and the feedback aligned.

 WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

The short sentences and clipped writing made the story feel more frantic and all the actions more rushed. The descriptive writing used for the music playing almost makes the reader able to hear and feel it pulsing through the page.

The protagonist is engaging and evokes much empathy. Sensory details are effective. The ending is unexpected.

Nice comments to hear - I am glad that that I managed to convey the feeling I was going for!

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

Who is the protagonist? Give a few descriptions, like how big or tall they are as it helps or hinders them fight through the crowd, etc.

It's written in the second person - You are the protagonist in this story! :)  I knew that writing in the second person would be a gamble, as it's fairly unused.  Most stories are first or third person.  Still I am surprised that the "you" didn't give it away! ;)

For more impact, it could seem as though pulling the breaker solves the problem, but then the band starts playing again. The gargoyle she touches could animate for an added fright. I think the story would be more compelling written in first person.

I think that this could work for added impact - but unfortunately I don't think it would have fitted within the word limit without losing something else.  Without a word limit, it could certainly be expanded on.
It's funny in this comment that again, writing in the second person wasn't liked, however the judge refers to the protagonist as "she"; perhaps they did read it as them performing the actions?  Would they have found it as creepy if they were reading about someone else doing these things?

Overall I was happy with this story; I've never tried to write in the horror genre before, but it was good fun.  

I took a gamble with the second person narrative, as it is uncommonly used in literature, and therefore unfamiliar to readers.
Despite the judges not liking it, I don't think I would change it to first (or third) person if I were to do it again, because I feel that it is far more unsettling for you to take the place of the protagonist and be dragged along for a ride beyond your control than to read about someone else taking that journey.

I got 8 points for this effort, which was fairly high up the rankings, so I was very happy with that!

Unfortunately not enough to get through to the next round, but I finished 13th overall in my group, so I think I didn't do that badly!

It's certainly been a challenge and I have learned more about writing, keeping things concise (word limits really do help you to cut out any extraneous text!) and about potential audiences differences in taste.  :)  
It's also given me a few ideas for short stories going forward... perhaps I shall write some more soon!



Friday, 27 December 2013

Seeping Massacre



 Back in September I saw a Flash Fiction Challenge.  The rules were that you would be assigned a genre, location and an item, and you would have 48 hours to write a story of no more than 1000 words.  I signed up!

This is the second story that I wrote for that challenge.
Genre:  Horror
Location: An Outdoor Music Concert
Item: Animal Crackers


Please note:  This is a horror story.  It has some things in it that people may find disturbing, so please use your judgement about who it is suitable for.  (I'd probably rate it at about a 15 if it was a movie.)


 Seeping Massacre

“Jesus!  Put them away before somebody sees!” Chris frantically shoves your outstretched hand away.  You shrug and drop the earplugs back into your pocket.  Yours are already in your ears, filtering the sound, much to Chris’s despair.
Everyone around you is dressed in black, some have painted faces.  Even Chris is wearing the band hoody (black, of course), with the scarlet blood-dripping logo emblazoned across the back.

No one told you there would be a dress code. 

“Come on, let’s try and get a good spot.”  Chris turns across the field to where the crowd is already thick watching the support act.  You follow, trying not to lose sight of him among the heave.
 
Finally he stops and shouts something at you, but you can’t make it out over the rumble of the speakers, so you just nod.  He shoves a box of Animal Crackers into your hands.  Festival food?  Well, better than the greasy hotdogs you expected.

The night air is thick with the smell of sweat and mud.

The support finishes and takes a bow.  You clap, as best you can while holding a box of crackers.  The stage lights dim.  Shadows move across it rearranging props and instruments.

A single flame appears. 

The screaming of the crowd goes up by at least an octave.  Chris jumps up and down waving and hollering.  You wait politely, munching on the sweet Animal Crackers.  Crunch.
Suddenly the lights blast on and four mildly-overweight men run onto the stage wearing grotesque masks of face paint and fake blood.

HAIL SATAN!” the lead singer bellows into the mic, to thunderous approval from the crowd.  You chuckle, wondering how much the fans buy into this stuff.
“We are THE SEEPING MASSACRE!”
The drummer blasts the bass pedals, the guitarist slams a discordant note, the ground trembles as they growl out their first song of the evening.
There is barely a break before they move onto the second – or at least, you think it’s the second song.  It could be the first one again.

You glance at Chris; he seems to be enjoying it... but wait.  Blood; oozing from Chris’s ears.  He doesn’t seem to notice.  You try to point it out to him but he just frowns at you.
“WHAT?  I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
You look around for help; but a wet splash draws your attention.  A man nearby, headbanging, blood flicking in droplets as he thrashes to the song.
Everywhere you look the dark trickles are running down their jaws, dripping from their chins…
You reach to your own ears.  The soft foam of the earplugs is reassuring, there is no blood seeping through them.  But what if you are bleeding, too, and the plugs are just holding it in?

You scrabble in your pocket for the spare earplugs, and try to push them into Chris’s ears, but he pushes you away, annoyed.  Your fingers come away slick and sticky with his blood.  The smell of iron is getting stronger…

You know you have to stop the music.

You start to push your way through the crowd towards the stage.  Chris grabs at your shirt to pull you back, but you break away.  You reach the mosh pit; the ground churned so badly you slip and slide through mud and blood trying to reach the front.

The stage is awash with flames: sickly green, purple-red.  The music begins to hurt your ears, despite the earplugs.  You try to get over the barriers; a security guard forces you back.  Apparently the crowd think that’s a good idea though, as others start to push forward, and suddenly the fence is down and you’re propelled through.

You push and kick your way out; the security guards are getting the throng under control, but you don’t want to get onto the stage.  You want to get behind it.

Crew sit in a mess of cables, blood dripping from their eyes and ears and noses.  They don’t pay much attention to you; you’re not dressed in black like the fans, and you’re wearing earplugs.  They may not know who you are, but clearly you belong backstage.  The main breaker is within reach.  It’s stiff and locks down with a clunk.

The stage lights shut off, and the speakers power down; but the band plays on and the music continues, as loud as ever, rumbling through the ground.

How?

You run up the stage stairs to be confronted by flames – flames you thought were just pyrotechnics- still leaping around as if driven on by some cursed magic.  Shadows in the shape of horned and winged creatures surge beyond the ground, pushing upwards, warping the wooden boards of the stage - trying to break through.

You run up to the singer, and shout, as loud as you can, to stop the concert.  He looks at you, a cruel smile forming on his lips, as he continues to intone harsh syllables.

You realise that the band knows exactly what they’re doing.  They will kill everyone, everyone, unless you stop them.  You make a grab for the microphone.  The singer pushes you away.  You try to wrestle for control.  Security guards, their faces almost obscured by blood are rushing towards you.  You are pushed away again, and as you stumble your hand closes around a stage prop; a gargoyle.  It’s heavy. 

You have to stop them.

The singer’s head cracks open with a crunch that you feel rather than hear.  Blood pours across the floor, drips through it, softens it.  The barrier breaks.
Demons of every size and shape clamber out of the hole, fly into the night, leap down into the crowd.  One of them gives you a mock bow before laughing and flying away.

The flames vanish.  The stage lights come back on.  Strong hands grab your arms.

Murderer!  The cry comes from below, and the crowd takes it up, and you realise.

They couldn’t see the demons.

They can only see you.  The killer that let them in.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Walking With Witches - Follow up


I thought it would be interesting to write a follow up and share the feedback I got from that story.  So often you enter a competition and never know what the people judging your work thought of it.  I also thought I'd write a little about the story, and how the intent and the feedback aligned.

''Walking with Witches'' by Sarah Matts - 
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY -

"This was action-packed and suspenseful. I also thought the subject matter was very original and well thought out"

What a nice thing to hear! :)  I think that this was a nice boost.  Even though this story didn't make it into the points section, it didn't mean that it was hated.

"Walker is an engaging protagonist. His loyalty to his friend is commendable. Chilling element relating to the "grinding of metal as every suit of armour turned its head and looked at him. " 

Character is so important in a story, I was very pleased to hear that was an element that the judges felt was strong.


.......................................   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ..................

"I felt as though we were crossing time periods and it was a little confusing - you might want to set up the castle a little more, perhaps pointing out its strange presence in modern-day life?"

This feedback really confused me.  It took me a few days to mull out why a castle had a strange presence in modern day life?
Then I realised - this is a cultural misunderstanding!  Living in Europe, castles are a normal and every day occurrence for me.  You drive past them all of the time, and not just ruined ones.  There are plenty of functional castle which are used for residence, business and entertainment.  My idea of the bad guys being in a castle was set up by one I visited in France that had been used as a base of operations in the second world war.
Being in America, there is probably a very fixed concept of castles being a historical thing.  I'm not saying this feedback is "wrong" though - it has probably been the most interesting lesson.  Confusion for people in other countries over things that are normal for me is something I hadn't really thought about.  I suppose I should have clarified that the mission was set in Europe.  Since there was a castle there I assumed that was obvious; I never gave it a thought that someone would imagine it being in America and out of place.  It's something I am going to keep in mind for future tales.   


"I think the story would be more compelling if you started in past tense in the second paragraph. The description of setting and weather isn't as much  of a hook as start with dialogue in a scene. Walker revealed himself as a punster, and I think the ending could be revised to be somethng even more memorable"

Confused on the first part of this feedback, as the second paragraph is in the past tense!

Since I got this feedback, I've seen someone else saying that you should start with dialogue too, as it is punchy-er.  This is something I'm going to try to notice in stories that I read in future.  I may go back to some old favourites too and see how they start, and if I feel hooked or not by those words.  You'll notice in my next short story, I do open with dialogue. :)

For the ending pun, I was definitely trying to avoid "kicked the bucket" as I felt that it was far too obvious and over used.  However I am stuck for coming up with other bucket puns.  Any suggestions?  

Overall that wasn't too bad!  I was inspired by the movies "Commando" (seriously if you haven't seen this, watch it.  It's hilarious!) and the Indiana Jones movies to get the action/adventure mash up, and I think it came fairly close to the style I was going for.  So nil points this round, but I learned some things and had fun, and that's what it's all about!  Tune in next week for the next story....

Friday, 20 December 2013

Walking With Witches



Back in September I saw a Flash Fiction Challenge.  The rules were that you would be assigned a genre, location and an item, and you would have 48 hours to write a story of no more than 1000 words.  I signed up!
This is the first story that I wrote for that challenge.
Genre:  Action/Adventure
Location: A Castle
Item: A bucket

Walking With Witches

The Castle loomed above him; a jagged shadow of spires and turrets thrusting into the midnight sky.  The night was warm, and the smell of moss and stagnant water lingered in the air.  His body glistened with sweat, shining over green whorls and stripes, and a bandolier chaffed against his bare chest.  He hadn’t wanted to come out here.  He thought he had left all this behind him.  But he’d had to do it - for John.

“We need you, Walker,” he’d said, pacing the living room.  The sun had been bright that day, but his eyes had been in a faraway place:  A dark place.  This place.
“You know I’m retired,” Walker had replied.  “I want a normal life.  I built this house to raise a family-”
“We both know you miss it,” John had interrupted.  “I’d go myself, but since I took that bullet...” he shook his head, a pained expression flashing across his serious grey eyes.
“I know,” Walker grimaced.  That had been part of the reason he had got out of the game.  But maybe he did miss it.  Just a little.  “So what’s the mission?”
“You’re in, then?”
“Maybe.  If you tell me what’s so important that one of your regular teams can’t go in.”
“Dammit, Walker, you know that’s classified.  I can’t tell you unless you’re on board.”
“I know how to keep a secret, John.”
His old friend sighed and then nodded.
“The enemy has a new weapon.  A staff which belonged to a... witch.  They’ve got an agent learning to use its power.  If we don’t stop her, she’ll become the next witch.”
“You came all the way up here to tell me a joke?  Jesus, John, why don’t you just send Dorothy?”
“I’m serious, Walker.  The Nazis experimented with the occult in the forties; they had some breakthroughs, too.  It was covered up, of course – we couldn’t let that go public.  Trust me; we don’t want her to reach full power.  We need her taken out, and the staff recovered.”

It had taken another three hours to convince him.  Even now he wasn’t sure he believed it, but Walker forced the doubts from his mind and focused on the mission.
“Time to say hello.”
The castle was almost impregnable.  Almost.  A cleverly-concealed grate allowed water to flow out to the moat; one well placed charge would blow a hole clean through the iron.  He checked his watch.  The timer ticked down, and bang on zero, a distant explosion rocked the walls.  At the same moment, he detonated the charge he had set at the grate.
Walker waded through the swampy water.  The courtyard beyond was clear; as he had hoped, the distraction at the main gate had caught the enemy’s attention.  Now all he had to do was find this so-called witch.
He darted from shadow to shadow, searching for a way in, until he found a carelessly unlocked door and ducked inside.
A dining hall stretched before him, lit by a multitude of candles.  Suits of armour lined the walls, and a long wooden table was set with silver.  He scanned the hall; empty.  Or so he thought.
There was a grinding of metal as every suit of armour turned its head and looked at him.  With stiff robotic movements, they stepped down from their pedestals.
Walker raised his rifle, and the staccato thunder of gunfire ripped through the hall.  Bullets pierced metal, ripping holes through the golems.  Still on they came.
The nearest raised its sword, a brutal two-handed steel blade.  The strike came more swiftly than the juddering movements would have suggested.  The commander dived out of the way, and then rolled to block another cut with his rifle.  Sparks flew as the weapons clashed.  Walker quickly barged his shoulder into another of the ghostly knights, sending it barrelling into two of its companions.  He jumped up onto the table and ran, silver and glass tumbling to the floor in his wake, then leapt through the door at the far end of the hall.
“Let’s see how you like modern warfare!” he grabbed a grenade from his belt and threw it back into the hall, then slammed the heavy wooden door closed behind him.  There was a boom, then the clatter of metal hitting stone.
“As I thought.  They just fell to pieces.”

A spiral stair ascended before him.  He leapt up the steps, ready for whatever challenge he might face next.  By the time he had reached the top of the tower and burst out into the night air, he was barely out of breath. 
“Welcome, Commander Walker.”
A woman, who had been surveying the landscape, turned to face him.  Her lips were red, her hair swept up into a neat bun.  Her clothes were black leather, and her voice was tinged with an exotic accent.  In her hand she held a staff of carved wood, atop which a gem glowed coldly.
“I’m sorry that you didn’t like my Knights,” she smiled.  “Perhaps I could entertain you myself!”  She stabbed the staff forward and fire shot out towards him.  Walker rolled, feeling the heat scorch his skin.  He opened fire, but the bullets bounced away, repelled by some unseen force.  The woman laughed.
“It isn’t polite to shoot at a lady!” 
Another blast of fire...
Walker looked around frantically.  There was a bucket sitting by the door, full of water.  He snatched it up and hurled the contents over the witch.
She screamed.
“I’m all wet!”
The gem began to glow.
Walker threw the bucket.
It struck her in the chest and she stumbled backwards.  Her balance gone, she tumbled over the ramparts with another scream.
“I thought she looked a little pail,” Walker muttered, picking up the fallen staff.
He felt its power fade, and the clouds parted to reveal a bright starry sky.  In the distance, the chatter of approaching helicopters whispered on the wind.
He had saved world for the last time – again.